MOSCOW (AFP) - A spokesman for Vladimir Putin on Friday denied rumours swirling in the European media that a baby had been born to the Russian leader.
Several news outlets reported that a woman romantically linked to Putin in the past had given birth, a possible explanation for the leader's unusual absence from the public eye that has sent the Russian rumour mill into overdrive.
"Information that a child has been born to Vladimir Putin is not true," Dmitry Peskov told Forbes Russia.
"I am planning to appeal to people who have money to organise a competition for the best journalistic hoax," he added.
The Russian Twittersphere has been alive with speculation over the whereabouts of the typically omnipresent 62-year-old, after he cancelled several meetings this week.
Russian state-media aired footage of Putin meeting at his residence outside Moscow with the head of the country’s supreme court Friday in a sign that it was business as usual.
Putin was last seen in public on March 5 when he met with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
Speculation earlier this week had focused on the leader's possible ill-health, which Peskov denied.
"There's no need to worry, he's absolutely healthy," Peskov told Echo of Moscow radio station on Thursday.
He said Putin was busy with Russia's economic crisis and has "meetings constantly, but not all meetings are public."
Asked if Putin's handshake remains firm, Peskov laughed and said: "It breaks your hand."
"As soon as the sun comes out... and it starts smelling of spring, people start getting delusions," Peskov told Tass agency.
The rumours come as Putin's approval rating hit 88 per cent, a record high in his 15-year rule, Tass reported Friday citing figures from the state-controlled VTsIOM polling agency.
Putin's popularity has soared since Russia's annexation of the Black Sea Crimea peninsula a year ago.